Friday, July 10, 2009

The Wages of Fear: a film

I had heard about The Wages of Fear some time ago, so I decided to take a look at it myself. I can't believe that film lasted 2 1/2 hours. Normally I take a break some time around 90 minutes or so, but this time I sat through the entire film. When I watch it again (it's on my "must see again" list), I will time it.

Briefly, it is one of the most tension-filled films I have ever seen. Perhaps someone more experienced in film analysis can say why.

The plot is almost absurdly simple. The film is set in an unnamed South American country, perhaps Venezuela. An oil well is on fire. Nitroglycerin is needed to put it out. The nearest supply of nitro is 300 miles away. The road between is so bad that transporting the nitro by truck without special safety equipment would be a suicide mission. There's no time to bring in the special safety equipment, so the oil country hires four men, who are out of work and out of money to drive two trucks the 300 miles. That's the plot.

The film opens with some initial background. We see the men and discover quickly that they want out of the small town where there is no work, but without money they can't leave. We learn a little about the men themselves, just enough to make them individuals, but little if anything about their past history. They are there, they are broke, and they are desperate enough to take on a suicide mission to escape, one way or another.

Their journey, of course, is extremely difficult, but the obstacles don't appear around every curve and are simply those that might be encountered on any road just barely hacked out of the wilderness. Under any other circumstances, they would be a nuisance or an irritation, but for trucks loaded with nitro, they become lethal.

The acting is uniformly excellent. One of the major roles is played by Yves Montand, the only name I recognize. Some of the other characters are familiar, but I can't place them in any particular film. The film, first shown in 1953, is based on a novel of the same name, I gather, by Georges Arnaud, and the film has made me curious enough to see if I can find it.

I have also just learned that there is a remake of The Wages of Fear. Why they changed the title to Sorcerer is beyond me. The remake is directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and stars Roy Scheider, one of my favorite actors. I have Sorcerer in my queue and should see it in a few days. I wonder what "improvements" were made by Friedkin, and I wonder if he changed the ending. I may even learn why the name was changed to Sorcerer.


  1. I saw the updated version awhile ago, and really liked it. The plot sounds similar to the original movie. I think it was called Sorcerer because that was written on the side of the truck they drove. ( WHY that was on the truck, I don't recall. Maybe it was never
    explained?) I remember the tension throughout the movie. Did the original movie have an ironic ending? ( I don't want to spoil it by saying what happened.) I'll have to watch the original to see how similar they are.

  2. Yes, the Wages of Fear did have an ironic ending. That was why I was wondering if the remake had changed the ending.

    I have _Sorcerer- in my Netflix queue, so I'll be seeing it probably within a week or so. I'm interested also in seeing what changes were made.

  3. I watched The Wages of Fear on YouTube today. I can tell you that it's similar to Sorcerer, but Sorcerer actually goes into the background of the 4 men a bit more. You see how they got to that miserable town, and why they want to leave. It also figures into the ironic ending - which is somewhat similar to TWOF's ending, but perhaps more unexpected. The trucks drive through rainforest, which has slightly different obstacles - perhaps even more intense. I'll have to see if I can find Sorcerer and watch it again. It's been awhile since I've seen it, and I'm interested to see if it's as good as I remember it.

  4. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the information. As for the ending, I didn't expect this one, although looking back now, I guess I should have.

  5. Fred,

    Did you ever see the film "Das Boot"? I think "The Wages of Fear" has alot in common with that film - especially the ending. I always thought the two together would make a good double feature. ( You might want to take a tranquilizer first, though, before viewing.)

  6. Cheryl,

    If you mean the film about WWII German subs, then I did see it many years ago.

    It is in my Netflix queue now. I added it when I saw that an expanded version came out in 1997, which was definitely after I saw it.

    I won't watch either film late in the evening just before I go to sleep.

  7. Fred,

    Yes, it's the sub movie. I didn't know there was an expanded version. I'll have to look into that.